real life

MIA: 'I'm surrounded by people who are breaking up. And I'm confused.'

Mia Freedman






I’m surrounded by people who are breaking up. They are sad and I am confused because their relationships aren’t bad.

I don’t even mean they’re kind of tolerable. Their relationships are actually great. They are deeply in love with their partners who are deeply in love with them.

No cheating. No abuse. No arguing – well, that’s a lie but it’s not a dominant feature in their day to day lives together. But for various reasons they are pragmatically deciding to end their relationships. And these emotional decisions are mostly being driven by women, all of whom are in their 20s. Let me give you some examples of three women I know.

BREAKUP #1:  Her boyfriend of three years is about to go travelling for six months. She doesn’t feel like it’s realistic for them to stay together for such a long period of time when they’re still so young. She’s worried he might stray.

BREAKUP #2: She’s from Brisbane but currently living in Perth where they met 12 months ago. She loves her job there, has no plans to return home in the near future but can’t imagine staying in Perth to get married and have kids.

He has a child by a former partner in Perth and so he won’t move to Brisbane. They love each other madly and the relationship is the best she’s ever known but she’s torturing herself with the idea they should split now because neither of them will move in the future.

BREAKUP #3: She’s been with her partner for a couple of years. They live together and are extremely happy. But he’s not the type of guy she imagined having a family with. He lacks ambition and is content to just surf and do casual work to pay the bills.


Despite the fact she earns enough as a lawyer for them to live comfortably and has never felt so loved, she can’t help feeling that the father of her children should be with someone more her equal in earning capacity and (she’s scared to admit this even to herself) intellect.

None of these scenarios should surprise me really. I’ve always known women to like to plan ahead. We live in the hypothetical future A LOT – for better or worse. When we’re younger, this means reading about sex and relationships way before we actually have them (oh, the number of fathers I have had to calm down when they’ve freaked out about their daughters reading Dolly and did you know there was SEX in there???).

As we get older, it means thinking about how our weddings might look (you’re TERRIBLE, Muriel) and then when you find a partner, starting to get interested in reading about pregnancy etc etc.

But this idea of making big decisions about your life years before you actually have to? I have no idea what to think about this.

Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg

And it’s not just in the realm of relationships that women are doing it.

I recently finished reading the brilliant book Lean In by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg who throws up her hands in despair about the number of women she sees putting their foot on the brakes and slowing down their careers for a future life as a mother than may be a decade away.

She urges women “don’t leave before you leave”.

By this, she means making decisions to the detriment of their career trajectory based on some future idea of what kind of job might or might not be practical when they were ready to have kids.

She describes a young woman at Facebook who requests a meeting with Sandberg where she peppers her with questions about how she  (Sandberg) manages to balance her job with her two small children.


As the questions came faster and more urgently and she saw the woman growing increasingly anxious, Sandberg interrupts the girl to ask if she and her partner were considering having a child.

She writes of the young woman: “She replied that she did not have a husband, then added with a little laugh, “Actually, I don’t even have a boyfriend.”

Talk about ‘jumping the gun’ as Sandberg puts it.

Could this be the most pragmatic generation of women in history? Or are they just really really bad at living in the moment? I asked Mamamia’s editor, Jamila Rizvi about this because she’s 27 and I figured she may be able to translate.

But that’s not how she rolls. “I am big on saying to myself ‘that’s Future Jamila’s problem.” So while it may suck to be Future Jamila, Present Jamila isn’t tied up in knots by a hypothetical issue that may never come to fruition.

I love that.

I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about my future when I was in my 20s. I just wanted to do everything fast and to hell with the consequences. I’ve never been a five-year-plan girl, not in any aspect of my life. I’m not sure what you call an inability to look into the future. I wonder if it’s related to my lack of spatial skills…….

Anyway, yes, Future Mia did have a few problems but she worked them out.

Because you have to, don’t you? Taking pre-emptive steps to avoid potential future angst seems somehow……like a life half lived.

Tell me though, is it better to be organised and do your breaking up or scaling back your career in advance?